Pilgrimages to monasteries: forms and functions

As shown previously, in monasteries. Orthodox believers can employ various types of religious regimens. Monasteries serve as multipurpose platforms that can host diverse forms of religious life and they welcome various types of Orthodox believers, including but not limited to practising parishioners, occasional ‘flashmobbers’, neophyte networkers, regular pilgrims and religious tourists seeking ‘fast Orthodoxy’ on a bus trip. 1 suggest that in relation to monasteries, this list can be extended to include trudniki, individual pilgrims who visit monasteries either alone or with friends or family and stay there from several days to several weeks (sometimes even months!) in order to do volunteer work. In this chapter, 1 will analyse the diversity of forms and functions of pilgrimages and discuss the trudniki as a specific type of pilgrim: those who immerse themselves temporarily in a monastic setting.

The ‘anti-structured’ religious life is often connected to movement, motion and mobility. Pilgrimage - on foot, by bus, train, ship and even kayak - is one of them. In this respect, walking ‘processions of the cross’ (krestny khod) are an interesting case where a particular emotional state (e.g. repentance) is intensified by the physical hardships of strenuous walking and a rejection of basic amenities. This is true of the Klimovka ‘expiatory pilgrimage’ (Luehrmann 2017, p. 168) when pilgrims walk for three days to repent of past abortions, as well as pray for children. Other examples include the one-night Royal cross procession in memory of the Romanov family in Ekaterinburg and a five-day Velikoretsky procession of the cross which commemorates the discovery of a miraculous icon in the 14th century (Rock 2014).

Monasteries can be either a stop on the procession itinerary or its final destination. Each year, Diveyevo becomes the main destination for processions of the cross that flock to the monastery from all over Russia by 1 August when the feast of St Seraphim is celebrated (see Figure 9.1). As previously mentioned, three outdoor camps are erected to accommodate around 4,000 people and blankets and tokens for free meals are distributed.

Pilgrimages perform several functions. They provide an introduction to faith for the curious (‘pilgrimage as mission': Rock 2015), and they perform a recreational function by offering inexpensive leisure activities (Kormina 2011, p. 208) and promote locally venerated ‘unofficial’ shrines (Shevarenkova 2000: Shevarenkova 2001). Often being geographically rooted, pilgrimages awake and preserve memory of important events at places of historical memory and help ‘contemporary Russians to “rediscover the historical past’” (Rock 2015, p. 54).

Apart from that, ‘pilgrimages form religious identities and communal bonds that draw from the Church but exist beyond the Church’ (Naletova

Diveyevo, 2012. Cross processions from various cities and towns flock to the monastery at the end of July to celebrate St Seraphim’s feast day on 1 August

Figure 9.1 Diveyevo, 2012. Cross processions from various cities and towns flock to the monastery at the end of July to celebrate St Seraphim’s feast day on 1 August.

Source: Photograph © Ksenia Medvedeva.

2007, p. 2). We might not see strong communal bonds on weekend bus trips for barely Orthodox pilgrims who have little sense of belonging to either real or imagined communities (see Anderson 2006) of the Orthodox. However, we see many examples of communal experience during other types of pilgrimage. The differentiation of various types of pilgrimage is important to see their ‘community potential’ (see also. Rock 2015, pp. 60-61). Based on the analysis of two kinds of pilgrimage - processions of the cross and the veneration of ‘travelling icons’ - Naletova identifies these communities of believers as ‘kenotic’ (Naletova 2010). The Christian concept of kenosis means ‘self-emptying’, as with Christ’s primary self-emptying, that is, putting aside the appearance of divinity to become incarnate as a human being. Naletova applies this idea to communities of pilgrims who follow the example of Christ by accepting humility, suffering and self-limitations. Therefore, non-structured ways of religious life are an excellent means to study kenotic communities; for example, communities of pilgrims who are able to find new ways to communicate and congregate in Christ-like fashion during cross processions or in groups of trudniki living and working in the monastery.

Pilgrimage not only helps people to connect with a real community of believers but also intensifies the feeling of belonging to an imagined community of the faithful. As Rock writes, during pilgrimage people can ‘imaginatively connect with their personal past (deceased family members), their regional past (the ancestral vow), and/or an imagined Orthodox community which might be the Russian nation or a more mystically conceived union of believers’ (Rock 2014, p. 296). In other words, during pilgrimages, believers strengthen their religious and national belonging.

One of these kenotic types of communities is the community of trudniki. Trudniki in Russian monasteries are mostly women: they are students and single girls who come to monasteries out of a fascination with monastic life; women with children who come during school vacations, and the retired who comprise a large group of visitors. 1 met a retired woman who said she had ‘travelled almost all the monasteries, wherever possible’.21 She made travelling to monasteries her main activity, as she lived with her adult children and her somewhat restricted living conditions (her bed was a narrow sofa in the kitchen) had forced her to seek shelter elsewhere. In many monasteries trudniki have meals, work and attend church services together with monastics and other pilgrims. They do volunteer work and become part of a peri-monastic community. Trudniki have a special status in the monastery which makes their position semi-structured: they neither have the rights and obligations of parishioners, nor are they completely free to choose what they want to do. Similar to parishioners, trudniki are provided with the full liturgical life of the monastery. They are expected to participate in church services and meals which are seen as ‘continuation of the liturgy’; however, confession and communion remain optional. Like monastics, trudniki follow the schedule of the monastery, share the rhythm of monastic life with nuns or monks and, of course, work. On one occasion 1 was assigned to help the nun Olga in the monastery kitchen garden with a group of other trudniki, and another nun tried to take us for some other task. Nun Olga did not want to share the helpers: ‘Stop! These are my pilgrims, no!’ - ‘I will complain about you!' - ‘Tell whoever you want, I am not afraid of you! I'm only afraid of God! Right, Xiusha?’,22 she said. In another, more routine situation I was asked to dust candlesticks in the church. As I was working, a nun passed by saying, 'God save you’. She asked my name, turned to the altar and prayed for me. These examples show that monastics indeed appreciate visitors’ help, especially during seasonal jobs in summer.

Trudniki also learn certain monastic values. Their main activity in the monastery - work - is interpreted in spiritual terms of activity that helps to develop obedience, humility and so forth. Temporary trudniki, even more often than permanent members of the monastic community, are inclined to spiritualise the meaning of their work in the monastery (Dubovka 2017, pp. 36-41). I noticed it in my interviews, too: because physical work often occupies a lot of time and might not leave sufficient time for rest, reading or prayer, it is often seen as an instrument of spiritual growth. A female pilgrim shared with rue, ‘Why am I even visiting monasteries? To learn what an Orthodox woman should be like. Nuns already have these qualities more developed. [While we were working,] we didn’t judge anyone, we didn't gossip, we just did our work! We could have chatted about this or that but we didn't, but I left shocked, it was such a shock!’23

Being able to enjoy monastery resources (food and shelter, church services and sacraments, community of monastics and other pilgrims), trudniki come to monasteries for various reasons. Some come to deepen their regular religious life with more frequent prayer, church attendance, sacraments - in this regard, I suggest that monasteries can act as an addition, extension and intensification of parish life. Others come for recreation; to spend their vacation in the countryside and safely explore Orthodox traditions. What unites them is that they function in a peri-monastery regimen. While ‘beyond the walls of the monastery’ trudniki might or might not live a religious life, within the monastery they are bound with a semi-structured religious life that comprises elements of parish and nomadic religious regimens.

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